For the first time in the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission's 57-year history, the charity's operators have had to turn away men seeking shelter this week.
The Pasco mission turned away two men Tuesday night, still cramming in 103, said Andrew Porter, the mission's assistant executive director. On Thursday night, he said, they managed to fit in 105 and still had to send one away.
It's not unusual for mission staff to have to turn away women from the neighboring women and children's shelter, Porter said. That shelter only can house a maximum of 28 and typically is full.
But so far this year, the mission has seen more men seeking shelter in March than during the winter freeze, Porter said. The average has been 104 men.
Byron Brooks, the mission's men's services director, said it's difficult to turn people away, knowing the mission is the area's only homeless shelter.
"Their alternative is the street," Porter said.
So far this year, the mission has housed 248 different men at the shelter, Brooks said.
With the daily number hovering around 103, the 45 beds in the main dorm and the seven beds in the dorm for the mission's faith-based New Life program are full, and any available floor space is covered at night with sleeping mats. Porter said they can fit about 40 mats in the mission's upstairs chapel.
Brooks said the miraculous thing is that the mission has had fewer conflicts between the men with the high numbers of residents than it had when the numbers were closer to 30 in 1999.
Housing in the Tri-Cities remains tight, Porter said. Apartment occupancy has hovered around 99 percent.
And other services for low-income people also have been cut, he said.
Brooks said the inability to find a job has some men staying at the shelter.
A couple of years ago, many of the men standing along the street near the men's shelter would have a day job by 9 a.m., Brooks said. Now, they still are there when lunch rolls around.
One of those staying at the mission while he looks for work is Jerry Brady.
Brady, 41, originally from Texas, said he has been staying at the mission off and on since he moved to the Tri-Cities more than three months ago.
On Friday, he had a job opportunity that he hoped would pan out. Brady said he's an iron worker, but that's a skill that isn't in demand in the Tri-Cities. Local unions have plenty of iron workers who are looking for jobs, he said.
So Brady said he has had to stay at a shelter for the first time ever. He said he was pleasantly surprised by the good quality of the food, and didn't mind the crowding.
Brady said he had been at the mission for the past week, seeking a job so he can get a new start in life.
"This is a place for people to find themselves," he said.
Mission officials hope to build a new men's shelter and a new women's shelter soon. Porter said they would have more room than the mission currently has.
The mission's buildings are close to 100 years old. The women's shelter used to be a telephone company, and the men's shelter once was a Masonic temple, Porter said.
Porter said mission staff is monitoring the number of people seeking shelter, and are looking for churches that might have room to house any overflow.
The difficulty is there is no way to tell now if next month there will be fewer men or if they will be turning away 10 instead of one or two, Porter said.
The mission also needs donations of food, especially meat, and needs laundry soap, paper products such as toilet paper and napkins, socks and underwear.
Donations can be dropped off at the men's shelter, 112 N. Second Ave. Cash donations can be sent to the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission, Box 1443, Pasco, 99301, or online at tcugm.org.
Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org